MLB Prospects with the Most to Gain/Lose in Spring Training
With spring training less than a month away—pitchers and catchers can report to camp as early as Feb. 12, with position players scheduled to arrive a few days later on Feb. 15—some organizations have already released their list of non-roster prospects invited to big-league camp.
Although very few of these players will open the 2013 season in the major leagues, they will each have an opportunity to make a strong impression.
Here’s a look at five prospects with the most to gain and lose this spring.
Kaleb Cowart, 3b, Los Angeles Angels
A switch-hitting third baseman, Cowart’s prospect stock has taken off after he improved across the board last season, batting .276/.358/.452 with 54 extra-base hits (16 home runs), 14 stolen bases and 11/67 K/BB in 135 games between Low-A Cedar Rapids and High-A Inland Empire.
From his natural right side, Cowart has a line-drive oriented swing. Of his 16 home runs last season, 14 came as a left-handed hitter where he showcases a more leveraged and powerful stroke. His vastly improved plate discipline should give him a chance to sustain a better-than-expected batting average at higher levels.
An instinctual defender at the hot corner, Cowart has above-average range and a solid glove. His arm stroke is a bit lengthy, but his plus arm strength essentially negates that concern.
Cowart is one of 11 prospects invited to big-league spring training by the Angels. He obviously won’t break camp with the team, but with a strong showing followed by a solid campaign at Double-A, he could make a case to supplant Alberto Callaspo, who will become a free agent after the 2013 season.
Kolten Wong, 2b, St. Louis Cardinals
When the Cardinals selected Wong out of the University of Hawaii in the first round of the 2011 draft, it was expected that the second baseman would need minimal time in the minor leagues due to his advanced baseball skills and overall polish. Coming off his full-season debut in which he batted .287/.348/.405 with 38 extra-base hits, 21 stolen bases and 74/44 K/BB in 126 games at Double-A Springfield.
A left-handed hitter, Wong’s bat projects favorably as a No. 2 hitter, as his direct bat path and level stroke results in hard contact to all fields. Although his bat the potential to be an above-average tool, the 22-year-old will never be a source of home-run power, but should be good for plenty of doubles.
Wong’s defense at the keystone is nearly big-league-ready, though he lacks the standard range of an up-the-middle player. After trading Skip Schumaker this offseason, Wong will enter spring training with a chance to break camp as the team’s second baseman.
Julio Teheran, rhp, Atlanta Braves
After registering a 2.55 ERA at Triple-A Gwinnett in 2011 as a 20-year-old, Teheran entered the 2012 season as one of the top pitching prospects in the game. However, the right-hander regressed across the board while repeating the level, posting a 5.08 ERA with 97/43 K/BB in 131 innings. The Braves tinkered with his mechanics throughout the year, which many believe was the reason behind his struggles.
Teheran’s fastball still has good life at 91-95 mph, however, it was flatter than the previous season and frequently left up in the zone. His changeup is still his best pitch and an easy plus offering, but was considerably less effective given his fastball-related command problems. The right-hander also throws a curveball and slider, though neither pitch is particularly advanced or effective.
He pitched well this offseason in the Dominican Winter League after reverting back to his original mechanics, and the Braves hope that it will lead to a bounce-back 2013 season. After trading Tommy Hanson to the Angels, Teheran has the potential to break camp as the team’s fifth starter. However, he’ll still have to silence his doubters during spring training.
Aaron Hicks, of, Minnesota Twins
A toolsy, switch-hitting outfielder, Hicks took a major step toward the major leagues last season by batting .286/.384/.460 with 45 extra-base hits (13 home runs), 32 stolen bases and 116/79 K/BB in 129 games at Double-A New Britain.
Although his plate discipline is relatively advanced, Hicks’ hit tool is still unproven and will be challenged at higher levels; he tends to feel for contact rather than swinging to drive the baseball. He’s always possessed plenty of raw power, but finally showed signs of utilizing it last season at a more advanced level.
His plus arm is a cannon and plays anywhere in the outfield. However, given his above-average speed and excellent instincts, Hicks should have no problem remaining in center field.
After trading both Ben Revere and Denard Span this offseason, the Twins are in a position to promote an outfielder from within their system. If Hicks can showcase both the pop and speed that he did in 2012, the 23-year-old could open the upcoming season as the team’s center fielder.
Chris Archer, rhp, Tampa Bay Rays
Drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the fifth round of the 2006 draft, Archer has always featured swing-and-miss stuff. However, his inconsistent control and command prevented him from reaching the major leagues until the 2012 season. The right-hander spent most of year in the Triple-A Durham rotation, where he registered a 3.66 ERA with 139/62 K/BB in 128 innings. Between two separate stints in the major leagues, Archer posted a 4.60 ERA with 36/13 K/BB in 29.1 innings.
With an athletic delivery and quick arm, the right-hander’s fastball sits 93-97 mph, and he can reach back for a bit more when needed. Archer’s slider is a true plus offering that generates swing-and-misses due to its tilt and two-plane break. He also throws a solid-average with deceptive arm speed and a sinking fade, and is especially relative to his heater.
After dealing James Shields to the Royals this offseason, the Rays have a vacant spot at the back of their starting rotation. Although Alex Cobb is the frontrunner for the final spot, Archer will have a chance to build upon last season’s success this spring.